Developing award-winning multi-tier/blended leadership learning at BAE Systems

Hemsley Fraser designed and then delivered business strategy-aligned and award-winning leadership development programmes for a complex, value-focused organisation in a changing world.

BAE Systems is a global security and aerospace company with a workforce of more than 90,000 spread across 40 countries. It’s the largest defence contractor in Europe and the biggest manufacturer in the UK. 

Providing critical capabilities to governments to enable them to deliver national security requires the company to develop leaders aligned with the business’ commercial strategy, have the behaviours to be effective people managers, and be agile enough to adapt to an uncertain future. 

Having successfully adapted and transformed during the pandemic, ongoing evolutions in technology, as well as expectations around talent development and collaborative and safe work, demand that leaders at all levels have the skills to successfully drive further transformation.

The challenge

Historically, BAE Systems’ leadership learning was classroom-led and focused on the development of technical skills. The pandemic emphasised the need to improve people-focused leadership behaviours at a time when traditional learning approaches were more difficult. 

Any new learning approach would need to be aligned to the business strategy, suited to the complexity and multi-level nature of leadership at BAE Systems and be deployed rapidly.

With over 1000 new managers joining every year, any development programme would need to assess learners’ skills, formalise desirable leadership traits and be able to support learners consistently through their employment. The aim was to enable learners to develop core leadership behaviours, improve employee advocacy and increase retention via their own support of team development.

BAE Systems also tasked Hemsley Fraser with creating a programme that would support ongoing hybrid learning, ensure learners were engaging with crucial learning activities and would support certification and learner networking on a global scale across multiple time-zones.

The programme would also need to focus on engaging leaders in learning the skills required to successfully operate in a complex, matrix organisation, deal with change, manage and develop their own teams effectively, and develop crucial emotional and cultural behaviours, including challenging the status quo and being autonomous decision makers.


The solution

BAE Systems chose to partner with Hemsley Fraser to create a two-tier leadership architecture that could develop people management skills as well as leadership skills for the future. 

Hemsley first created a four-core-module managing people programme for people managers with less experience. Over 22 weeks, it put learners through facilitated webinars, self-directed learning and then implementation in the areas of becoming a manager and performance support. 

For senior leaders, the ‘Leading the Future’ modules, which took place over six months, started with a self-assessment and went through modules including leading change in my business, setting strategic focus and leading courageously.

Both of the programmes would develop clear, core leadership behaviours that aligned with BAE Systems’ strategic vision. Leaders could then apply consistent leadership habits moving forward, using a mix of digital content playlists, webinar participation, self-reflection, one-to-one coaching, network group coaching and learning application to ensure effectiveness.

Prior to developing the programmes, Hemsley Fraser interviewed 70 leaders at BAE Systems in order to be able to build the very best programmatic and relevant content and topics for impactful leadership learning, understanding what leadership at BAE Systems should look like and how best to engage learners with learning that they could then apply effectively and consistently in their work.

This analysis stage meant that Hemsley could create a bespoke, highly interactive programme that delivered on learner and business needs, using senior leadership to champion learning and fostering connections between learners.

To support a cultural shift in learning style — towards a modular behavioural focus that was delivered in a hybrid manner — and engage leaders in learning, the programme was endorsed by the Executive Committee who played a role in developing the learning-business strategy alignment.

The programme was supported by alumni and peer advocacy and was guided by Hemsley Fraser’s previous knowledge of successful learner take-up. Learning journey documents and guides were provided to help learners take logical steps through their modules.

Learning also relied on Hemsley experts, coaches and content. It included bespoke Fluidbooks, playlisted content, online learning, scenario exercise, and delivery of multiple, individual one-on-one coaching sessions by a Hemsley Fraser coach. These were packaged within three-hour modules which included peer-led breakout sessions to help consolidate and support learning. This hybrid, contextualised approach helped BAE Systems learning move away from their traditional, classroom based approach.


The results

Deployed quickly during the pandemic's peak, the programme has already seen a 96% participation rate.

Anecdotally, learners so far report the programme has helped drive real impact, with all participants feeding back that they would recommend it, with 90% of the modules described as very or extremely valuable. Modules on leading business change and collaborative leadership, as well as the coaching elements of the course, were described by 100% of participants as extremely valuable.

The hybrid approach — including virtual and in-person coaching, as well as self-directed and peer-led learning — has been well received; 93% of learners say they have regularly implemented learning, reporting that their engagement with senior stakeholders has improved, they better understand change management and have better conviction in challenging poor behaviours.

The implementation of a new model and culture of learning, supported by Hemsley Fraser, has also created a new blueprint for learning at BAE Systems, in which a blended approach of live expert-led, virtual and digital learning means, relying on learner input at the design stage, can drive organisational and learner confidence in development. 

More than 90% of participants say they still intend to be at BAE Systems in 12 months’ time and participants have given an average eNPS score that ranks as good. 

Learn more about our recent award wins with BAE Systems and Shell


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